I am always in two minds about anthologies. I often find them disappointing with the assorted short articles or stories. I think I really like to get into a subject more. So it was with two minds that I agreed to review the RHS’s new publication The Garden Anthology.
The book has been edited by Ursula Buchan and is a compilation of a wide range of articles that appeared in the magazine from 1866 to the present day. Buchan states that she has chosen articles which do not rely on photographs or other illustrations to make their point which immediately warmed me to the book. I remember when my parents bought me Lloyd’s’ The Well Tempered Gardener and they were bemused why I would want a gardening book without pictures but are pictures really necessary all the time? If you don’t know what the plant being referred to you can look it up. I much prefer reading good descriptive writing that evokes a sense of place or scene.
Unlike many recent anthologies this has not been arranged season by season or month by month which is also a relief. There is nothing more tedious than reading article after article about winter gardens. Of course I know you are meant to dip into a book but I prefer to read cover to cover. In this book the sections are organised according to subjects which are quite broad. They include some obvious ones on plants, people, garden design, practicalities but then there are some more unusual sections such as ‘The International Dimension’ and ‘Inside the RHS’.
Given the broad range of writers who have contributed to the magazine over the years it isn’t surprising that their many voices can be found here from the lyrical writing of Geoffrey Dutton who in the 1990s wrote a series of articles about gardening in Perthshire to more scientific and up to date voice of James Wong. In total there are 80 different writers included and my only real complaint with the book is that there seems to be more articles from 2000 to the present day than the period before this which I found a little disappointing. Many of the earlier writers’ work are hard to access these days so I was hoping for more of this.
I was also interested in Buchan’s approach of trying to choose articles that reflected the changing interests in horticulture, whether it is a new scientific discovery or a move towards more environmental approaches, wildlife gardening etc. I wondered if this contributed towards the large volume of articles from the current century as it seems to me that changes to horticultural approaches have been significant since the turn of the century, far more than I remember previously. Maybe this shows a greater acceptance by the magazine’s readers to embrace new ideas rather than the traditional set in stone approach of this is how you do something that I remember from my early days of watching Gardeners World. Interestingly a subject that is often promoted, especially in social media, as a new idea – Are Gardens Art – was raised by Lucinda Lambton back in 1996. As they say there isn’t much that is really new!
This anthology is a good substantial read. It has a wide range of subject matter and a wealth of intelligent writing which I am sure would satisfy any gardener with an enquiring mind. It would also make a good Christmas present for the gardener in the family and I am sure a welcome change to the usual gardening gloves and secateurs.
Crocus speciosus oxonian
In need of some gentle stress relief and an escape from all the trials and tribulations that are plaguing my existence at the moment I set off cross country towards the welsh borders and the autumn plant fair at Hergest Croft.
I have visited a number of times, the last time in Spring, but I have been meaning to visit to see the autumn colour. The journey was a typical autumnal one with patchs of bright blue skies and sunshine and then periods of mist and dampness. Luckily being on the side of a hill the garden was clear of the mist and the sun soon burned off the residue. As well as Hergest Croft’s own plants for sale, including a wide selection of acers and interesting specimen tress, there were a number of small nurseries selling their wares. I was particularly looking for something to replace the dead acer in the woodland border and after much discussion and advice I came away with a berberis seiboldii and a leptospernum myrtifolium as well as a hydrangea, hellebore and some bedding cyclamen.
Having completed my purchases I went for a mooch around the grounds. First up is the rockery/ferny area near the house which I have visited in spring as the ferns have been unfurling so it was good to see it at this time of year. There are so many herbaceous plants with interesting autumn foliage which I think are overlooked in preference for trees and shrubs. I think the autumn tints above are from Darmera peltata.
I was particularly taken with this area since it is the effect I am trying to achieve, albeit on a smaller scale, on the slope in my garden. I also discovered the amazing purpley blue crocus in the top photo.
I was also interested in this herbaceous border which was still looking good despite the cooler temperatures and the battering we have taken in recent days from the rain. The planting and colours are reminiscent of what I am trying to achieve in the borders in my garden so again seeing them at this time of year has helped me form better plans and ideas in my head to take forward to next spring.
Hergest Croft is one of those gardens where I find myself looking up as much as around me. When I visited in the spring I was taken by the height of the rhododendrons and the way the light played through the spring leaves of the beech trees. I think in a week or so the autumn leaf colour will be even stronger but the mellow buttery yellows of the birches against the pines/larches (?) was quite lovely.
It is at this time of year, and maybe spring, that we really appreciate the beauty of trees especially when you see the white bark of the birch in stark contrast to its surroundings. I saw children intrigued by the peelings of the paperbark maples as well as, strangely, quite a few people head first in the trees looking for labels! There is a wonderful arboretum at Hergest Croft which is wasted on me due to my ignorance about trees but I did recognise the collection of sorbus trees. I think sorbus is one of my favourite trees and I have a few in the garden but I am now wondering if I can shoe horn in another one. I was particularly taken with the pale orange berries of the Sorbus ‘Copper Kettle’ but also the shape of the tree.
Sorbus ‘Copper Kettle’
Before leaving and wending my way home I had a nose around the conservatory which was looking the best I have seen it. I suspect this is because they have brought all the tender plants in pots in. I was particularly impressed with the Brugmansias although I am now worried mine might get this big and my greenhouse is so much smaller.
Autumn has arrived and a sense of panic marred my gardening today. With evening gardening over due to the shortening days and a wet day yesterday, I felt an unexpected sense of urgency in the garden today. To such an extent that I found myself not enjoying myself at all but this may be tangled up with the pervasive feeling of unhappiness I am experiencing currently – which I know is hardly surprising and I need to be kind to myself.
With cooler temperatures forecast the tender plants were the priority. I am in a bit of a quandary at the moment since I am using the greenhouse for my alpine bulbs which presumably means that this space won’t be very helpful for overwintering the tender perennials. I intend to keep the greenhouse just frost-free, or even cold, and the door will be open on warmer and sunnier days and I suspect this won’t be good for the succulents and pelargoniums. There is part of me which thinks “give it a go and see what happens”. I’m not emotionally attached to any of the plants so if I lose them I won’t be heartbroken but then my sensible and risk averse head kicks in and I wonder how to accommodate the diverse range of plants I have accumulated in recent years. The solution, at the moment, is that I have tided up my work space in the garage and all the pelargoniums are now stored in there by the window where they will get lots of light. The tender succulents are currently in the greenhouse whilst I come up with a better solution. I only ever keep the greenhouse frost-free and they have always been fine so I wonder if I corral them in one area and give them some extra
Aster pringeli ‘Monte Cassino’
protection with fleece whether that will be sufficient. The rest of the borderline plants in pots have been collected on to the patio so they can be quickly put under cover if a frost is forecast. There are still some planted out but again I am thinking of risking them to see what happens. Bob Brown told me the other week that he thought if you planted them deep enough and mulched plants you didn’t expect to survive do. I have also heard John Massey say the same so I might give it a go.
As I collected the pots up I was deeply conscious of the fallen leaves which weren’t present last week and how much I still wanted to achieve in the garden to prepare it for Spring and finish off projects before Winter commences. Then in the next breath I experience a strong feeling of just needing to give up and ignore it all. There are areas of the garden where I still feel very strongly that the planting could be better. I spent some time talking to my sons about my loss of confidence in my horticultural abilities, how the borders don’t replicate the images in my head and our conclusion was that writing about the garden on this blog may be partly to blame. I have always shared my plans and thoughts about the borders and in the last few years on a weekly basis, much as I have done today. I have always tried to treat the blog as a record for myself but at the moment, in my heightened emotional state, I am feeling quite vulnerable and sensitive so it may be that the garden won’t appear here for a while until I am feeling a bit more positive and confident.
Aster ericodes f. prostrate ‘Snow Flurry’
Oxalis perdicaria ‘Citrino’
I have a bit of a thing about bulbs. I just love them. I love the fact that you plant a small dry bulb and within 6 months you can have a stunningly beautiful plant. I love the anticipation of waiting for the first shoot to push through the soil. I love the ephemeral nature of the flowers and I love the variety from the tiny crocus and snowdrops to the large giant lily (Cardiocrinum giganteum). So it’s hardly surprising that due to my recent dabbling in the vast and intriguing world of alpines that I have been expanding my bulb collection. Added to this I have this year joined the Pacific Bulb Society so, as a friend said to me yesterday, all hope is lost.
For those who haven’t come across the PBS they generally produce a list of available seeds and bulbs one a month which you can apply to so recently small packages have been plopping through the letter box from California containing all sorts of delights. These have been duly potted up in terracotta pots and added to the bulb collection in the greenhouse. Coming home from a weekend away the other day I was beside myself to discover Oxalis perdicaria ‘Citrino’ in flower. Only a few leaves were present before I went away so to discover these dainty pale yellow flowers was a delight. Oxalis perdicaria ‘Citrino’ is a bit of a rogue Oxalis. It sends up leaves in spring but no flowers, then it dies back, only to reappear at this time of year with flowers. The flowers only open when the light is good and apparently have a honey scent but I am yet to detect this. I am becoming intrigued by Oxalis having been bewitched by Oxalis veriscolor when I visited the Alpine House at RHS Wisley back in February.
Oxalis veriscolor – RHS Wisley
If you look carefully you can see that the flowers have a red and white twist of colouring. When the flower bud is tight shut it is red and the petals are wrapped a bit like an umbrella would be. Then the flower opens out and it is white inside. The Oxalis perdicaria ‘Citrino’ does the same except the flower is the same colour inside and out but when you look very closely at the buds you can see the same twisting of the petals. I think they are beautiful and intriguing
So now you know why I get excited about bulbs and yes my friend is right – there is no hope for me